Med Top Destinations: Big Cities Version

The salty water of the Mediterranean is a common feature of the many countries that overlook it; however the sea basin also highlights the diversity of culture, nature and history of the communities who inhabit this particular area, which can be considered the center of the ancient world. In a way, the Mediterranean Sea supported and helped the populations that lived there, teaching them to live in harmony with each other, to adapt to each other. Therefore it’s time to virtually visit five main cities that witnessed the evolution and revolution of the region.

Istanbul, Turkey

The only city that joins two continents to form a unique combination of contradictions: Istanbul, a cradle of civilization that fascinates the wanderers by taking them to another era in our modern world. A daydream that cannot be fulfilled but in Istanbul.

It was considered, over centuries, to be the quintessential multicultural city, with dozens of languages spoken within it that facilitated the trading activities during ancient times, which fostered its growth. Located on the shoulders of a strait, the Bosphorus, which enriches the city with endless supplies of resources coming from all over the world and provides a wonderful scenery through the city.

Istanbul was also known as Constantinople. When the Byzantine Empire fell and the Ottoman Army led by Mehmet the Conqueror settled in, the cultural identity of the city was about to change. And yet, Mehmet was visionary as much as Constantine, preserving the city and letting it thrive.

A tangible example of this vision is the Hagia Sophia, a church/mosque. It was initially built as a church and historians claim that “it changed the history of architecture” when it was first constructed between 532 and 537. By adding the features of a mosque, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Constantinople was converted into the Ottoman Imperial Mosque of Istanbul and survived through history as an Islamic place of worship; it was then converted into a museum and, recently, back again into a mosque. No matter what it the identity of the Hagia Sophia is, it stands in the heart of Istanbul, facing the blue sea, narrating the longevity and the greatness of the city.

Istanbul, home of thousand mosques which bejewel its hills, along with its extraordinary architectural and artistic monuments and treasures, renowned in the whole world, stands today as a hub of commerce, history, culture, beauty and diversity.

Rome, Italy

A small town next to the Tiber River in central Italy was the seed for an enormous Empire that is considered to be one of the most powerful of them all in human history. Rome, the majestic capital of this Empire was founded by a descendant of the God of War, Romulus, in 753 BC, according to the legend.

The Roman State grew exponentially across the lands, gaining power, dominating most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, which led to a diversified culture through its Empire. All roads leads to Rome, as the saying goes; the Roman roads were considered to be the most advanced ones among the ancient civilizations: they were, as a matter of fact, as one million and seven hundred thousands square miles of roads connected the cities of the Empire.

The Empire’s structural design and engineering still have an impact on our modern communities. The Roman’s water infrastructures that helped the construction and the growth of communities continue to be used even nowadays: the Fountain of Trevi, for example, despite being built in the XVIII century, is indeed connected to the ancient Roman waterworks. The Roman concrete and cement helped to preserve many monuments that are still standing tall; the Imperial Forums and the magnificent Colosseum keep decorating Rome with their many arches, rendering Rome a true piece of art.

The city surrounds a City-State, the Vatican, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the residence if the Pope, consisting of the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They provide Rome with an added value, making it one of the top touristic destinations around the globe.

Everything in Rome is worth seeing: the beautiful iconic churches and the beautiful parks and greenery spaces, as well as the hidden gems that you can find all over the city. For all the pizza and pasta lovers, the best place to enjoy your best meal is from their source, Rome.

Cairo, Egypt

Standing on the banks of the Nile River for more than a thousand year, almost spanning the entire timeline of human history, there is Cairo: one of the most populous cities in the world, it is a perfect blend between ancient civilizations and modern communities. Containing old monuments and newly built skyscrapers, it can seem like a chaotic city.

The Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is the most marvelous man-made structure ever. We can find, nearby, the iconic Sphinx, a sculpture that has the head of a human and body of a lion, whose duty was to symbolically safe guards the Pyramids. The Pharaohs built their magnificent tombs on the edge of the desert and, nowadays, the Giza Pyramids Complex is one of the leading touristic site of our planet.

The Nile is the life blood of the city, sustaining and maintaining the vegetation that surrounds its landscape; it is also a way to exit the Egyptian lands through its river delta, leading to the Mediterranean Sea in the north. It’s the main source of living for many citizens as well, such as fishermen, traders and farmers.

Cairo holds one of the highest numbers of historical treasures of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities which contains around one hundred and twenty thousands artistic masterpieces from the Pharaohs age; the items were removed from their original discovery sites and placed in the Museum to both display them, but also to preserve them better.

Large bazaars (also known as souks) are scattered throughout the chaotic city; by walking the street of Cairo is it possible to experience the beauty of chaos. The souvenir stands, the craft shops, the spice and food stalls… The city is full of surprises, like a real treasure in the desert.

Paris, France

They say you don’t need a reason to visit Paris; I say you have all the reasons in the world to visit it. The city of romance, full of blinding lights and fascinating culture; a royal city, enchanted by the majestic Seine River, that adds a touch of allure to the city. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991.

Paris offers to every visitor a unique, romantic experience and its history is immersed in a aura of magic. The city infuses love in every single corner. Countless proposals were made under the iconic Eiffel Tower and the picturesque walks along the Seine are just one of the countless options available to lovebirds.

France is famous for its food and Parisians hold a special place in their hearts for the pâtisseries, the boulangeries and boucheries. The “cafe culture” is at its best in Paris: one of the most common pleasures of the city is the morning leisurely spent on a sidewalk cafe; whether solo or with company, you can’t not enjoy your cafe and croissant with the french, glamorous atmosphere that surround Paris.

There is Paris and there is the rest of the world. The city is brimming with with world-famous features. With a copiousness of monuments, galleries and churches to visit, with the iconic Eiffel Tower, the gothic Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum and various gardens, few places embrace their own land quite so well as the city of love.

During World War II, Paris was declared as an open city, in attempt to preserve the culture and treasures of the city, from the finest art pieces to the evidences of the evolution of the human race. Paris is a perfect combination of art and history and it can be considered as a true open air museum.

Beirut, Lebanon

On the east shore of the Mediterranean rests a city with a unique identity, considered to be an actual blend of east and west. Beirut, a fast-paced, fashion oriented and unbelievably friendly city, is uncommon under many aspects.

The city of vibes is the perfect destination for diversity, energy and organized chaos; it’s almost addictive. In Beirut, the multi-cultural environment is most common, with people of different background, beliefs and origins sharing their love for the city as if it is their beloved partner.

Beirut features a rich heritage, an interesting architecture coming from different eras and a vibrant intellectual scene; in addition to an outstanding hospitality industry, it hosts a booming night life and several art hubs: it’s the wild child of the Middle East. The city was rebuilt almost eight times during the course of history and it never fails to thrive, turning to hope even in its hardest times. From the bullet-scarred buildings with their lively night life to the art square that once was a military frontier and the contemporary structures standing side by side with the French era apartments, the city never fails to astonish its visitors.

It was once called “The Paris of Middle East”, but this nickname does not pay homage to Beirut anymore: with all its perfections and imperfections, the Lebanese capital is truly a city of the world. A unique experience awaits you, one that you can only have in its street, with different musics of various cultures and an odd mixture of food.

If cross your path with a Lebanese person and you ask him/her about Beirut, you will notice that Beirut is in the soul of every Lebanese, and the attachment s/he feels to the city is incredible and beyond explanation, just like the Beiruti scenery of the White Mountains or the sandy shores during the summer haze.

Wael Merhi
MedTimes Journalist
Rotaract Club President
(Rotaract Club Aley, District 2452)

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